Póvoa de Varzim is a charming resort town just 30 kilometers north of Porto. Lots of Portuguese locals from the Norte region go there to have fun, and many tourists take a day trip to Póvoa de Varzim while staying in Porto.
Traditionally, Póvoa de Varzim has been an upper-class resort town. It had this reputation as early as the 1800s. Later it became more accessible to the general population, and today it is a resort town for everyone, but you still get the feeling of exclusivity and class when you visit the place. You can expect most people there – both locals and tourists – to be Portuguese, as the resort is mostly focused on attracting domestic travelers. International tourists are welcome to visit as well, but you just won’t see as many of them as in the Algarve, in Nazaré, in Matosinhos, or in any of the major cities.
But what are the best attractions in Póvoa de Varzim? Obviously, the beach and the casino are some highlights, but we will go through several of the best things to do in this article.
You have easy access to some of Northern Portugal’s best beaches when you are visiting Póvoa de Varzim. The town has a long coastline that stretches several kilometers. It is very sandy and the water is pretty – although you should be prepared that conditions can be windy at times.
Near the town centre you will find the popular beaches Praia da Salgueira, Praia do Carvalhido, and Praia Redonda. They are located right next to each other in different patches of the same coastline, parallel to the main promenade – Avenida dos Banhos. All of these beach areas are easy to access, and they are mostly without rocks. The sand is nice, and the beaches will be relatively busy whenever the weather is good. As mentioned, these beaches near Avenida dos Banhos are the most popular in Póvoa de Varzim.
Lifeguards are present during the day. The town centre is just a quick walk away, and so is the metro station that leads to Porto.
If you want to be in a beach area that is less crowded, you can either go north or south along the coast. In the north, there are beaches such as Praia de Ofir, Praia da Apúlia, Praia do Quião, and the surf-friendly Aguaçadoura. If you go south, you’ll quickly arrive at another resort town, Vila do Conde. The non-urban beaches often look prettier, but they are rockier, so be prepared for that. We would advise bathing at one of the central beaches, such as Salgueira, while the others are more for suntanning, sightseeing, etc.
Casino da Póvoa
It is no secret that many people come to Póvoa de Varzim to visit the famous casino.
Opened in the early 1930s, it has long been one of the most popular entertainment venues in the region. It was designed in a modernist style (heavily inspired by Garnier) with an impressive and noticeable exterior that wheels people in.
The most popular games at the casino are Roulette, Blackjack, Baccarat, Banca Francesca, and slot machines. There are several rooms, including one which only has traditional casino games, and others that exclusively have slots.
On top of the casino games, the venue is also the centre of Póvoa de Varzim’s nightlife. It has multiple bars and restaurants, and it also has a theatre. The restaurant Egoísta serves typical Portuguese gourmet dishes. The interior is also very well decorated with plenty of art pieces. So to sum things up – you can visit Casino da Póvoa even if you aren’t a gambler!
Painéis de Azulejos
An awesome free attraction in Póvoa de Varzim is the panel of Azulejos. You’ll probably recognize the Azulejo decorations from other places in Portugal – they are particularly common in Porto and in the north – but this one is a bit more modern and different.
Created by artist Fernando Gonçalves in 2004, these panels represent the history of Póvoa de Varzim. You will see images that depict Póvoa de Varzim as it once was, with old boats, fish, and trams, but also images that depict it as a classy tourist resort – the way we know it now. The panels also show famous people that are related to the town in one way or another.
Painéis de Azulejos is found in between the port and the central beach of Praia do Leixão.
Ethnography and History Museum
Located in Solar dos Caneiros, the former home of the Viscount of Azevedo, we find the most popular museum in town. It is the Ethnography and History Museum of Póvoa de Varzim. As the name suggests, this museum is focused on local history.
The museum has several permanent exhibitions, and they mainly show items and artifacts from the town’s past. Some artifacts date back to Roman times and they were found in the vicinity of the town. Then there is a maritime section where you get to learn more about Póvoa de Varzim’s history as a fishing village. There are Poveiro boats on display and we consider this area to be one of the highlights. You will learn more about the tragic maritime in the town when a storm killed over a hundred fishermen in the late 19th century.
The Ethnography and History Museum also features sections where you can see local religious art. Another area shows old children’s games.
Due to the unique location of the museum – inside the former home of a viscount – you also get to see how a Portuguese noble family used to live.
Overall, there is a lot to see and learn, so we highly recommend visiting the museum. It is highly regarded by the locals and it is arguably one of the most interesting places in the entire region. Plan your visit through the official museum website!
Igreja de São Pedro de Rates
The main church of the area is São Pedro de Rates. It is not located in the town centre of Póvoa de Varzim – you have to travel a bit northwest but fortunately, it isn’t too far away.
There has been a church at the site since 800, while the current one was constructed in the 12th and 13th centuries. The background of the church is interesting – it was the parents of the first Portuguese kings who ordered it to be built. As you can imagine, it had a lot of importance in the early days.
It is named after São Pedro de Rates, one of the first persons who adopted Christianity in Iberia. The church has been built in a Romanesque style, and it has been mostly untouched throughout the years. That makes it one of the most authentic pieces of architecture in the country, and the church is carved on the outside as well as in the interior – you will notice carvings of Christ as well as some saints. Due to the rich history of the church, we consider it to be one of the top attractions in Póvoa de Varzim. But you do have to travel just a bit away from the town centre to see it.
Praça do Almada
As in most Portuguese towns and cities, the very centre is usually the most charming place. That is also the case in Póvoa de Varzim where the square Praça do Almada is one of the most lively spots in the town, and it is surrounded by some of the best attractions.
The main things to notice is the central statue on the square portraying literary giant José Maria de Eça de Queirós, the architecture of the surrounding buildings, the city hall, and the pillory. The square works as a meeting place for many locals, and it is a spot that you will likely walk through several times on your trip to the town.
One of the main attractions on Praça do Almada is the city hall – known in Portuguese as Câmara Municipal. You can’t miss it when you’re walking by. On the upper part of the building, there are three waving flags and a long line of Azulejo tiles.
It is not an attraction that takes a long time to see, it is simply one to walk by and pay attention to it. Many visitors like to take photos in front of it. Of course, Câmara Municipal is an important place when it comes to local politics and agreements. The mayor and the city council have their offices here, so it is a building that is still in use. The azulejos were added in the early 20th century. A family who got rich in Brazil ordered a Belgian painter to paint them. Câmara Municipal is considered a Building of Public Importance by the Portuguese State.
Farol da Lapa
This lighthouse has had a lot of significance over the years. Old photos portray that the lights could easily be seen from the bay, and it has helped sailors for years.
It is believed that there has been a light at the location since the 16th century. The Lapa church was built in 1770, and the stone tower with the light was then added soon after.
In the late 20th century, it was deactivated, but in 2016 it was put into use once again. The unique thing is that Farol da Lapa is a lighthouse as well as a church – something that quickly becomes visible when you get there and see the cross and the other decorations.
Farol da Lapa is located in a more residential area, but it has grown as a tourist attraction in recent years. Many people come to see it. Especially since the re-opening in 2016. If the main goal of your trip to Northern Portugal is sightseeing, then don’t miss this place!
Castelo da Póvoa
Above the harbor you will find Castelo da Póvoa – the fortress of Póvoa de Varzim. It used to guard the town against raids which was somewhat common back in the day.
The current fortress was built in the early 18th century during the reigns of Dom Pedro II and Dom João V. It was rebuilt since history books indicated that there has been a fortress named Forte de Torrão at the location since the 1400s.
It is a fortification with a quadrangular shape that has two bastions facing the water and two bastions facing the land. The fortress has a chapel (Baroque style) on the inside grounds, guarded by the walls. Castelo da Póvoa certainly looks old and it is clearly one of the oldest landmarks in the town centre. Some renovations took place in the 2010s, mostly in the interior with the chapel.
Due to its central location, it is one of the attractions in Póvoa de Varzim that you shouldn’t miss.
São Felix Hill
São Felix Hill is the highest hill in the municipality of Póvoa de Varzim, just over 200 meters above sea level. It is an interesting attraction since it has ruins from old Castro settlements, estimated to be from around the 2nd century BC. The hill also has a church.
It took its name after Saint Felix. Myths say that he used to live on the hill, and it could very well be true.
In the past, fishermen used the hill to navigate from the sea. It obtained almost legendary status and to this day it is considered a sacro-monte (sacred hill) among the Portuguese. Several thousand pilgrims to go São Felix Hill every year!
Many tourists decide to visit the São Felix Hill since it gives a great view of the area. You can see many of the buildings, the beaches, the water, and also the countryside if you look in other directions. You get to the top of the hill by following the stairs. It can be a bit of a hike, but if you’re in decent shape it is no problem at all. The São Felix Hill is located about 7 kilometers northeast of the city centre, near the parish of Laundos. You can stay for a night at the popular São Felix Hotel on the hill!
Cividade de Terroso
In the suburbs of Póvoa de Varzim we find another important site that relates to the Castro culture. Cividade de Terroso is an important Bronze Age settlement in the heart of the old Castro region. It is believed that the settlement of the area started around 900 BC before the Romans destroyed it in 138 BC during their conquest.
Yet some things remain. Cividade de Terroso is a pretty massive site with many interesting ruins to explore. That includes the main citadel, the outposts, the walls, the housing remains, and the small museum. However, most of the artifacts found at Cividade de Terroso are on display at the Ethnography and History Museum as we mentioned earlier.
This is a great place to visit, and seeing Cividade de Terroso immediately gives you a cultural experience that can add value to your trip!
Parque Natural del Litoral Norte
If you don’t mind leaving the centre of Póvoa de Varzim, try going some kilometers north to see Parque Natural del Litoral Norte. It is one of the best natural parks in Portugal.
Originally, it was intended to preserve the wildlife in the area. And it has indeed been preserved very well because Parque Natural del Litoral Norte is believed to have over 240 plant species, over 140 bird species in the area, and many fish as well. It is located right by the coast, and by visiting this park, you can get a different experience with the local nature rather than just visiting a beach. There is a walking path that you can follow through the park. It is great to visit in the spring, in the summer, and in the early autumn.
That was an introduction to Póvoa de Varzim and its many attractions. For a town with only 63,000 residents, it has quite a lot to offer.
Aside from the attractions we have described in this article, you should also take some time to simply relax and enjoy life in this town. It is meant to be a resort where everything is a bit slow-paced and enjoyable. As mentioned before, Póvoa de Varzim is one of the most popular destinations in Portugal among domestic tourists. We recommend you to go as soon as you can – before the international crowds discover it!
Getting there is very easy – you can take the metro or a bus from Porto. We would also recommend renting a car and exploring more parts of Northern Portugal. However, with Póvoa de Varzim being such a pleasant resort, you will likely want to stay there longer than you actually planned. So keep that in mind, and